Dark Nature; A Natural History of Evil

Lyall Watson, Sceptre, 1995

Reviewed by Fred Marshall in SOF NZ Newsletter #22, July 1997 in the section "Books That Made A Difference".

The Goldilocks Theory which underpins this book states that the universe exists because the multiplicity of elements which compose it combine in exactly the right proportions and ways, to within remarkably small degrees of discrimination. Like Goldilocks' porridge they are "just right". Evil is defined as an excess or a lack which upsets the equilibrium. Evil is consequently an integral part of the Natural world.

The human is a part of the natural order and subject to the same conditioning factors as all other creatures. Following Dawkins, Hamilton et al, Watson traces the genetic imperatives for survival (Be nice to insiders; be nasty to outsiders; cheat wherever possible), through diverse animal behaviours to primates and humans. He describes the emergence in humans of a moral sense; in that context he examines "horrible" crimes like the murder of the little Bulger child by 10 year olds and the Holocaust.

He concludes with the conflict in each of us "between an old set of impulses which are, by design, very strong; and a new set of values which are, inevitably, unnatural". We each contain a Jekyll and Hyde, and are required to confront the "shadow self" -- the gene-motivated, selfish impulse and choose not to follow its urgings, i.e. to exercise our free will. Watson invokes Shelldrake's "morphic fields" to support the view that each individual "right" choice helps to create a climate of rightness.

His last chapter states more clearly and cogently than I have found elsewhere the dilemma of choice that confronts humanity and the evolutionary consequences which may come from the choices we make.